I couldn’t let #mentalhealthawareness day pass without mention. It’s so important to talk about and share our mental health struggles, not just because of how much it helps to open up, but so that it normalises the discussion, and reduces the stigma.
I know lots of the mums I follow have suffered from PTSD and PND following giving birth. I was a bit different – I have suffered from PTSD ever since I was in a car crash in 2014 which I didn’t start CBT for until I was fairly heavily pregnant. My pregnancy was unplanned and I certainly felt that I was nowhere near ready to have a baby or raise a child, which was something else that I was still trying to come to terms with. It also took a long time to work my way through the murky self referral procedure of my local healthcare system, and by the time I was finally seen I had passed hysterical on many an occasion with my frustration and desperate need for help. As a result of feeling rather mentally vulnerable, I was terrified that I would be hit with PND and that my PTSD would return with a vengeance following the arrival of my baby.
I waddled along to six CBT sessions from about 30 weeks pregnant in a therapist’s office within a sexual health clinic in Catford every Monday after a full day of teaching, and would often go home feeling so drained and exhausted I could do little more than stare at the TV until I went to bed. I rarely managed to complete the tasks that were assigned to me during the week because I was working six days a week and aside from not having the time I simply did not have the emotional energy. I continued the CBT after I gave birth, bringing my son along with me at only a few weeks old so that I could breastfeed him and because no one else was around to look after him during my new appointment time of 12-1 on a Thursday. By some miracle, I didn’t get worse. My PTSD did gradually get better, I had self made progress charts which proved that, and as far as I’m aware the emotional struggles I encountered as a new mum wouldn’t be classed as PND. I completed the course, and my regular jokes about being “cured” aside, I did feel like I had made real progress, both in working on my PTSD and my general mental health (my therapist was very patient with my tendency to want to offload EVERYTHING at any given opportunity).
For a number of reasons, this pregnancy has been much more straightforward, and despite the inevitable hormone induced moments of rage/despair (not always helped by work stress etc) I feel more in control. Finding out I was pregnant again was a huge surprise, but it didn’t feel like the disastrous end to the world that it initially seemed to be the last time around. I wouldn’t proclaim myself to be in the best of places mentally, nor would I say that motherhood has been the dreamlike journey of happiness that it can be sold as, but I’m doing ok, and whichever blips and dips I hit I am feeling increasingly more confident in my ability to tackle. And for me, one of the key reasons for this has been my son. This is for being consistently and resiliently cheerful, charming, energetic, inspirational, persistent, and so full of love and lust for life that it is infectious and I have no choice but to do whatever is in my power to keep my head up and keep up with him. It’s funny to think that before he was born I thought he would be the biggest problem that I would struggle to face up to and overcome, but in the end he has ended up being both my motivation and the answer to my problems.
To all you other parents, parents to be, and anyone else who might be reading this who struggles, has struggled or struggles by proxy with mental health issues, I am here in solidarity with you and I hope me sharing my story might both encourage you to share in a way that works for you and to help you know that however unique your situation might be, you are not alone. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.